Journal of Threatened Taxa | www.threatenedtaxa.org | 26 August 2019 | 11(10): 14381–14384
Two new locations for the Vulnerable Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis (Przhevalsky, 1876) (Aves: Gruiformes: Gruidae) in Arunachal Pradesh, India
Rohan Krish Menzies 1, Megha Rao 2 & Abhinav Kumar 3
1,2 Nature Conservation Foundation, 1311, “Amritha”, 12th Main, Vijayanagar 1st Stage, Mysuru, Karnataka 570017, India.
3 Divisional Forest Officer, Along Forest Division, West Siang District, Arunachal Pradesh 791001, India.
1 email@example.com (corresponding author), 2 firstname.lastname@example.org, 3 email@example.com
Black-necked Cranes Grus nigricollis are a globally Vulnerable species which breed across the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau to the Ladakh region of northern India and winter south in Bhutan and parts of western Arunachal Pradesh, India (Birdlife International 2017). It is estimated that there are around 10,000 individuals globally with a decreasing trend in populations (Birdlife International 2017). In India, this large bird has been previously sighted on numerous occasions in the Ladakh region in the western Himalaya and from three main valleys in the eastern Himalaya—the Zemithang Valley, Sangti Valley, and the Chug Valley, Arunachal Pradesh (Mazumdar & Samal 2012; Chandan et al. 2014; Mize et al. 2018). Historically, the Black-necked Crane was sighted in the Apatani Valley, in the Subansiri region of central Arunachal Pradesh in 1979 (Chandan et al. 2014). It is thought that the population wintering in Subansiri was hunted out by the local communities. The species has also been reported from the high-altitude region of Sikkim, India, which is also part of the eastern Himalaya belt (Acharya & Vijayan 2010; Chandan et al. 2014) and from two sites in the Namdapha Tiger Reserve, the easternmost sightings for India (Srinivasan et al. 2010). Here we describe two new locations in Arunachal Pradesh for the Vulnerable Black-necked Crane: one being a potential wintering site and the other a stopover site on a possible flyway (Fig. 1).
Mechuka (1,829m; 28.58⁰N, 94.12⁰E) is located in the Shi Yomi District of Arunachal Pradesh and is nestled in between snow-capped mountains on three sides. Mechuka is about 28km (aerial distance) from the Chinese border and is located to the south of the Tibetan Plateau. The Yargyap Chu River flows through the town and there are large open spaces consisting of grassland, high altitude marshland and cultivated land which are well-suited for Black-necked Cranes. On 23 December 2017, an injured juvenile Black-necked Crane landed on the property of a resident in Mechuka Town. The bird had suffered a bullet wound to its left leg as a result of a hunting attempt in or around the town. Presumably, the young bird’s injury rendered it too weak since it needed to walk and feed (Image 1). The town lacks veterinary facilities, and although the family tried to keep the bird alive until help arrived from the closest city, it proved to be too late. The young crane succumbed to its injuries on the morning of 27 December 2017. Aware of the status of the Black-necked Crane, the forest department authorities in the district headquarters of Along, who were alerted by the locals of Mechuka, proceeded to conduct a reconnaissance survey of the Yargyap Chu River for the crane and other migratory birds. This survey resulted in locating nine potential stops for migratory birds along the river based on habitat suitability.
The town of Shergaon (2,000m; 27.10⁰N, 92.27⁰E) is situated in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh which shares a border with Bhutan. One of the two well-known stopovers in Arunachal Pradesh, the Sangti Valley, is also located in this region, about 30km (aerial distance) away from Shergaon. Similar to Mechuka, this high-altitude site possesses several rivers and streams along with open habitat mixed with farmland. The residents of Shergaon are fascinated with birds and have, unique to Arunachal Pradesh, imposed a ban on bird hunting for the past 20 years. Shergaon predominantly consists of Buddhist Sherdukpen tribe, who look forward to the landing of the Black-necked Cranes once a year; however, in the last five years, the birds have only landed twice (Garung Thuk, pers. comm.). The birds reportedly stay for about a week usually at the end of December or the beginning of January (Image 2). Although the birds don’t visit every year, they are welcomed and upon arrival, the village council informs the residents of Shergaon not to harm the Black-necked Cranes and reminds them that they will be punished if they do so. The cranes that stopover at Shergaon are usually lone birds or sometimes in pairs. It is possible that the Black-necked Cranes traveling south from China stopover at the Zemithang Valley, the Sangti Valley (only 30km away), and finally Shergaon before entering Bhutan. Due to the short duration of their stopover, it is less likely that the birds wintering in Bhutan from the Shenzha region in China (Liu et al. 2012) are spilling over to eastern Arunachal Pradesh.
While both Mechuka and Shergaon appear to have similar habitats, well-suited for the Black-necked Crane, there are differing threats that might affect this threatened species in each location. In Mechuka, there has been an increase in tourism and subsequent development to accommodate tourists. The government aims to develop Mechuka as a hub for adventure tourism, which comes with its own share of problems. Commercial aviation services will soon commence in Mechuka and this could potentially result in an increased disturbance to the birds. Black-necked Cranes are sensitive to habitat alterations and it can cause behavioural changes in the birds (De-Jun et al. 2011). Based on the incident from Mechuka described here, hunting is likely to be a significant threat to the wintering birds visiting here. Although, most of the local community members are Buddhists belonging to the Memba tribe who revere the Black-necked Crane, there are some residents from other tribes who still hunt the species. This cultural reverence of the Black-necked Crane also applies to the locals of Shergaon where the birds have the additional protection of the hunting ban. Although the brief stopover at Shergaon is made by only a few birds, the high levels of grazing and pesticide use could pose a major threat at a local scale (Birdlife International 2017). The proposed dams upstream of the rivers in both locations, however, could drastically alter the landscape downstream and hence influence the presence of the Black-necked Crane. The Monpa Tribe of Tawang District has long opposed the construction of dams on the Nyamjang Chhu River which would displace a 3-km stretch of the Black-necked Cranes wintering site (Lenin 2015). Due to the geographic position and the presence of suitable habitat in Arunachal Pradesh for the Black-necked Crane to winter, the state of Arunachal Pradesh can play a key role in the conservation of this species. Rigorous surveys and monitoring at both locations, along with educating the local communities about the importance of the species, would be extremely useful for the rare Black-necked Cranes in India and also to help understand the species from a global standpoint.
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